Guest Column: Pathway to Potential calls for universal Ontario pharmacare plan

Guest Column: Pathway to Potential calls for universal Ontario pharmacare plan

Linda Coltman (Voices Graduate)

March 20, 2015

Of the working population in Windsor-Essex, 17,580 are considered working poor. These are families and individuals who are contributing to the productivity and prosperity of our economy but who are forced to put their health second. The majority of the working poor population do not have employer-paid medical benefits and are left with the rising cost of dental and other health expenses.

Though commendable, the provincial poverty reduction strategy’s commitment to provide dental benefits to low-income adults by 2025 is a long wait for a dental checkup for many hardworking Ontarians and an unacceptable wait for those who are living with pain and infection and who need services now.

This budget should commit to the implementation of public dental benefits for all low-income adults by 2018. Too many Ontarians do not have access to essential extended health benefits.

It is encouraging to see the Ontario government take leadership toward a universal pharmacare plan. All Ontarians deserve to be healthy and we strongly support further efforts toward this goal.

The 25 in 5 Network for Poverty Reduction applauded the first five-year poverty reduction strategy that was unanimously supported by all three parties in 2009. Through bold initiatives like the Ontario child benefit, that strategy meant 47,000 Ontario children were lifted out of poverty, even during a deep economic downturn.

It is time for Premier Kathleen Wynne, Deputy Premier Deb Matthews and their colleagues in all three parties to show even greater leadership as we look to the next five years. And they need to start now, with the upcoming provincial budget.

Recent provincial budgets have made important increases to social assistance rates but rates are still seriously and dangerously inadequate. A single person on Ontario Works receives only $656 per month.

Ontario’s next budget should raise social assistance rates for all recipients, reinstate the Ontario Disability Support Program work-related benefit, and help raise more families out of poverty by increasing the Ontario child benefit by $100 per child per year.

The 2015 budget should signal tangible action on the government’s promise to “build Ontario up” by investing in community infrastructure, such as a comprehensive affordable housing plan, inclusionary zoning, and capital repairs for social housing.

And we need a timeline and budgeted plan to tackle homelessness, including more supportive housing for people with mental health and addictions challenges. This budget should also improve child care affordability by establishing a $300-million annualized fund to address significant challenges in funding formulas, centre viability, municipal subsidy waiting lists,and family child care agency funding.

It was encouraging to see all three parties vote unanimously in support of Bill 18 to strengthen labour regulations.

What is needed now is a comprehensive good jobs strategy that addresses the income, health and social security needs of the thousands of Ontarians who are precariously employed, creates pathways to stable careers for marginalized populations, and promotes the creation of quality, full-time permanent jobs.

Finally, the budget should have a clear plan to build sufficient public revenues to invest in our communities. Economic research done for the Ontario Association of Food Banks found that poverty costs Ontario up to $38 billion per year.

It would cost much less to come up with a strategic plan to build the “fairer and healthier Ontario” that Premier Wynne has promised.

The Ontario office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has identified a number of viable revenue sources which would allow the government to make these necessary investments in poverty reduction.

The loss of $38 billion per year should not only add urgency to the government’s plans. It should serve as a stark reminder that allowing individuals to suffer is costing us greatly. It is wrong on a human level and it costs us all, both socially and fiscally. We need bold policy leadership in the upcoming budget to tip the scales back toward a just Ontario.
Linda Coltman is chair of the Collaborative Leadership Team for Pathway to Potential, Windsor

Credit: Windsor Star

Dawnmarie Harriott